I don’t know where I would be in my grief if it wasn’t for my consistent yoga practice.
Yoga is everywhere. Meditation and mindfulness is saturating media like the latest fad diet. I was first introduced to yoga as a student at my extremely liberal arts college. Frankly, the breathing practice made me feel like I was hyperventilating. But after a weekend intensive I noticed how for the first time in my life I understood what calm meant. I felt high without a drug.
It was magical.
Flash forward to the early years of motherhood. I was falling apart physically, trying to balance the home/work life as a mother of a young child, and do it all perfectly. There were many tantrums, and I’m not talking about my child.
In 2014 my mother-in-law died suddenly, and my body reacted in a hideous way. I woke up one morning with a disgusting lip infection—they were swollen and oozing puss. This came after months of recurring eye infections. I realized that maybe all my health and emotional issues were stemming from my inability to relax, and my nervous system was freaking out.
When my local yoga teacher sent out an email offering a yoga teacher training I felt the pull. With the support of my husband, I began an intensive 6 month training with a four-year-old at home, and still working a full time job. I was doing this for myself, not to teach. (Although as a bonus I found out I love teaching too.) Yoga has had a profound impact on every aspect of my life. My outlook changed significantly, and I felt I had some life breathed back into my tired body, mind and soul.
During this time my husband and I had been hoping for a sibling for our son. I thought all this peaceful work would surely help with that. A few months after I completed my training I had a miscarriage. It was yoga that carried me through. After a week of bleeding, I finally surrendered to the mat and flowed through a gentle practice which allowed my body to release the delicate sac that I was clinging on to.
A year later I was at weekend yoga workshop with my beloved yoga teacher. On our way to the workshop I showed my friend a raw patch on my left wrist, it had been there for a few weeks. I inherited psoriasis, and it always flares up with stress. It was a sign of my grief over the miscarriage, and my frustration with trying to conceive. I know that now. But after that intensive weekend of yoga, and crying with my friend about how much sorrow I was carrying around, I looked down and the patch of skin was already healing as we drove home. I had surrendered and released once again, and once again my body responded in a positive way.
We finally got our wish in 2017, when I became pregnant with our daughter, Eva. At 28 weeks pregnant we received the news that she had a chromosomal abnormality that would limit her life. Eva had lissencephaly, a neurological disorder that caused her brain to develop smoothly, versus the typical grooves. It comes with a host of medical complications including horrendous seizures that strip the child of development. Our hearts were broken like never before.
It was the yoga mat where I sought refuge. I would wake early every morning, wiping away rivers of tears, gently moving my body. I found surrender and release once more as I stretched and breathed with my precious babe inside me.
And then moving into stillness and silence with my hand on my womb and the other on my heart, I was making a connection with Eva through mindfulness that would eventually carry me through the loss of her at 22 days old.
I often say there is a peacefulness in the pain. There is no easy way to move through the loss of a child, but being tender with our heart and body is a great place to start. Pausing to recognize the grief reactions in the body, and deeply breathing through them has been so beneficial. We hold so much of our grief in our bodies, which can get stagnant, that is why we have to move in order to surrender and release it.
Acceptance, surrender, trust, gratitude—these are all big terms used in ancient texts within the mindfulness community. Yoga taught me to accept Eva’s diagnosis, to surrender to our lack of control, to trust the journey we were given to teach us lessons, and to be grateful for the child we were blessed with.
Through the loss of my daughter, I have developed an even deeper and meaningful understanding of yoga and mindfulness. This is a gift. Before I would flow through difficult sequences, marveling at how limber my body was. I now understand it’s much more than proper poses and deep stretches. It is intuition, trusting your body, quieting your mind in a way that lets you tap in and listen to your true self—not just the swirling world around you. I have yet to resume my intense practice, instead I allow the introspection that takes place in the slower movement.
Mindful yoga is available to anyone, all you have to do is roll out your mat and let mindfulness guide you through the hard work of healing from grief.